Father Stephen Marwood

Marwoods in Renault at Ampleforth 1901

As mentioned in my last Ampleforth Connections post, my family’s connection with Ampleforth goes back a long way. Their website manager kindly managed to track down a hard copy of issue 10 of The Journey (11th July 2002) and scanned the front cover for me.

The caption for the photo reads: “Reginald Marwood, aged 11, arrives on 12 September 1901 in a Renault car to start his school life at Ampleforth. Later, as Fr Stephen Marwood, he was the first Housemaster of St Oswald’s House from 1926 to 1949. He died on 15 December 1949”.

My mother tells a story that when the Renault dealer first demonstrated the car to her grandfather it had trouble with the hills in Lancashire. It wasn’t long before her grandfather pointed out that the brochure had promoted the car’s hill climbing capabilities and apparently the dealer’s response with thick french accent was something along the lines of, ‘these are not hills, they are mountains’.

I’ve probably added this before but here is Obituary from the Ampleforth Journal of January 1950, vol 55 part I:

Born: 2 Aug 1890 – died: 15 Dec 1949
Clothed – 5 Oct 1907
Solemn Vows- 6 Jan 1912
Priest – 15 Jul 1917

The death of Father Stephen is humanly speaking a grievous blow to Ampleforth, to his brethren, to the School, and to countless friends. The writer cannot remember anyone at Ampleforth whose influence for good was greater or more widespread, or one who has occupied such a unique position in the hearts of all who knew him. The record of his life, on the face of it, was a simple one. His family has been connected with Ampleforth for nearly a century and he himself came thither as a small boy of eleven, the first to arrive in a motor car, in 1901. He left the School in 1907. Already at this early stage he was distinguished for his beautiful voice and his amazing histrionic powers. For years he took the chief part in the Exhibition Play and was probably the best Hamlet seen on the Ampleforth stage. Someone who knew him once said that the combination of these gifts would have made him a great opera singer. He remained entirely unspoilt by the attention and applause which came to him and he seemed from the beginning to be marked out for the priesthood.

In 1907 he entered the Benedictine Order and passed through his novitiate and early juniorate at Belmont. In 1911 he went to Oxford where he read Classical Moderations and the School of English Literature and finally took a post graduate course in French. He returned to Ampleforth in 1915 and was ordained priest in 1917. For a short time he was an officer in the O.T.C. and in 1918 he became Second Prefect – a position which gave him charge of the lower half of the School. This office he held until 1926 when the House System was introduced. He then became the Housemaster of St Oswald’s until the day of his death. Added to his duties as Housemaster from 1933 to 1938 were those of Master of Juniors, and from 1935 to 1941 the subpriorship of the monastery. He was in charge of the School stage for over twenty years until 1937. Such are the bare facts of his life. It was obviously a full one.

But one asks, what was the secret of the amazing influence that he exercised in the monastery, in the School, in many convents and indeed throughout the country? The answer is clearly that he was truly a man of God. He never lost sight, amidst all his popularity, of what he was, a monk of St Benedict, which meant a life of prayer, however busy he might be, and a life of obedience and self sacrifice in which his own will and ease (which by nature he would have loved) counted for nothing. His superior, as taking the place of God, was always reverenced and his commands in Father Stephen’s eyes were never wrong. He was never known to question his superior’s orders. It was not that he had not ideas of his own in plenty, but if they clashed with those of his superiors, there was never any question in his mind who was right. This self oblation carried him through all his activities. If he were told to do anything it was done with zest and perfection because he knew that it was God’s will and not because he liked doing it. He had no doubts about what he was doing. If he was praying, he prayed not only with wonderful recollection, but even with audible groans, and what a lot of time he managed to find for prayer! If he had to teach it was done with such gusto that it made other masters not only ashamed of their own technique, for his was superb, but also of their motive, which in him was completely selfless. Both the able and the slow found him the best of masters and certain of his lessons, such as the Witch Scene in Macbeth, became Ampleforth Classics. With something of a genius for imparting knowledge he loved to teach the plodder and the lame dog. He enlivened their pedestrian lives by doling out encouragement, and expounding the complicated syntax of a Latin or French sentence in the simplest possible terms consonant with their ability to comprehend. It had all been thought out for them. Boys in St Oswald’s who were backward in any subjects but Mathematics, Science which were entirely alien to his genius, will recall with pleasure those private classes that were given to them in his own room. No trouble was too great for them. After all, they were just those whom he was there to help. It was this sort of attention that endeared him so much to members of his own House and made them feel he was specially their own.

Something must be said of his exquisite gift of sympathy. Where it was needed Father Stephen could be indignant and, where he saw wickedness or slackness, devastatingly strong. His was a virile nature and the grumbler or slacker received no quarter. He hated sin, but he loved the sinner, and where help was wanted or sorrow reigned then he invariably came into action. No one ever approached him for advice or help who did not come away comforted and a better man. Their sorrow and their difficulties immediately became his and he never rested until he was satisfied that everything possible had been done to remedy the situation or to assuage the sorrow. Often this meant long tiresome interviews or carefully thought out letters and not infrequently long journeys across the country. It was the same for everyone: now it was one of his House, now one of his boys’ parents or one of his own brethren or one of the School servants. They were all the same to him for they all had immortal souls to be saved. If they were in trouble he had to find a remedy. He could laugh with others at his own quack remedies which he administered for their bodily ills. But his remedies, for their other troubles were not those of the amateur. They were based on first principles clearly seen and understood, although applied individually with all the milk of human kindness. They were often virile and direct if he thought that was needed, as one would expect from a good straight Lancastrian.

These first principles he derived from a vivid faith which animated everything he did. His great devotion was to our and his rosary was often in his hands. On one occasion at House Prayers, after a conjuring show in the theatre given by two members of his House, he held up his rosary beads saying: ‘This is the rope by which you can climb to Heaven. It is the finest conjuring trick I know,’ and he meant it. So strong was this faith in our Lady’s intercession that the miracles of Lourdes and Fatima presented no difficulties. They were just what he would have expected. His other devotions were manifold, such as that to the Sacred Heart and the English Martyrs. These devotions were not thrust on others. He realized that everyone had their own graces and ways of getting to Heaven. But he himself did not pick and choose amongst the good things of the Church, they all belonged to him and he used them all.

All his many devotions never annoyed others who saw in him just the living embodiment of the Love of God overflowing towards them.

Lest all this should sound inhuman, let it be said that no one could unbend so freely. No one could help a party to go with such a swing. His voice of wonderful compass, managed with a marvellous technique, was always at the service of his fellows. He had a sense of humour and an insight into the human foibles of his fellows which, combined with a power of mimicry, could bring shouts of laughter, but never offend anyone. When he recreated, there was no mistake about what he was doing, and no one enjoyed his legitimate pipe and arm-chair so well because it had been so well earned.
For twenty years he has acted as Second Master, although the title was never used of him. Many of the ideas and much of the organization with which the Head Master has been credited belong to him and so the writer of these words, indebted to him perhaps more than all his other debtors would like to acknowledge this.

He died on the Octave day of the Immaculate Conception and his last words to the priest who gave him the Last Sacraments were ‘It is all in the hands of our Lady’.
One is tempted to apply to him the words of Scripture about his great patron: ‘Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat signa magna in populo’. So let us hope that he has already seen the Heavens open and entered in. May God reward his great soul.
To his sorrowing sisters, surrounded by whose loving care he died, we all at Ampleforth offer our heartfelt sympathy and the assurance of our prayers.

Details from the Abbey Necrology


1890 2 Aug Born Pleasington
1901- Sep Educ Ampleforth
1907 5 Oct Habit
1908 6 Oct Simple Profession Prior Fowler
1909 29 Aug Minor Vows Belmont Bishop Hedley
1912 6 Jan Solemn Vows Ampleforth Abbot Smith
8 Sep Subdeacon Ampleforth Bishop Lacy
1915 29 Aug Deacon Ampleforth Bishop Vaughan
1917 15 Jul Priest Ampleforth ” ”
1911-15 Read English & half year’s post graduate French at Oxford
1918 Sep to Jul 1926 2nd Prefect in the School
1926 Sep House Master at St Oswald’s until he died
1933 Feb to Sep 1938 Junior Master
1935 Sep to Sep 1941 Sub Prior
1949 15 Dec Died at Pleasington Lodge
19 Dec Buried at Ampleforth

Sources: AJ 55:1 (1950) 37

The Rev Fr Stephen (Reginald) Marwood OSB dd in January 1950 aged 59 while visiting his sick brother Cyril Marwood 62yrs at Pleasington, Blackburn. Fr Reginald was a housemaster at St Oswald’s House, Ampleforth College, having become a monk after being educated there. The brothers had a sister who married a Birtwhistle. Reginald Marwood was born at Blackburn 1890 Dec Qr son of Frederick T. Marwood of Pleasington Lodge, and was a member of an old-established Blackburn Roman Catholic family.

One thought on “Father Stephen Marwood

  1. According to my mother the driver is her grandfather Frederick T. Marwood with his half-brother Tom as passenger (first of Marwood family to go to Ampleforth). In the back in her Uncle Reggis (Father Stephen Marwood) and his brother Gilbert, who she and her family knew and loved as Uncle Gillie.

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